EU-Arab summit set for February 24-25 in Egypt

ANKARA: A motion to deploy Turkish troops in Lebanon for a further year as part of the UN’s interim force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, was ratified by the Turkish Parliament on Tuesday.

It is the 11th time that there has been an extension of the time frame for Turkish soldiers supporting the UN peacekeeping forces. They will now be deployed to help the Lebanese government regain its authority and to provide security in the region until Aug. 31 next year.

UNIFIL’s total number of peacekeepers rose to 10,462 from 41 troop-contributing countries in August. Turkey, as the second largest army in NATO, has contributed 86 soldiers and one fast patrol boat.

This contribution helped the Turkish Army to boost cooperation and increased its level of recognition for the Lebanese.

Turkish engineering construction company TURKCOY joined UNIFIL in October 2006 to support the mission with engineering construction expertise, including the construction of roads, building of prefabricated accommodation and improving the protection of several UNIFIL bases. 

It also donated generators, computers and other materials to municipalities and schools, and also renovated schools.

Ankara withdrew its TURKCOY troops from UNIFIL after the kidnapping of two Turkish Airlines pilots in Lebanon.

Lebanon currently faces many security threats, largely due to the ongoing crisis in Syria, rendering the mission of UNIFIL much more crucial for the country.

Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs (LISA) in Lebanon, said that Turkey’s presence in UNIFIL is key for the security and stability of Lebanon, especially given the escalating tensions between Hezbollah and Israel. The two sides have been exchanging threats over the last weeks.

“Russia’s deployment of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system in Syria after Syrian air defenses downed a Russian spy plane during an Israeli strike in September puts Lebanon further at risk because it could be now seen as an alternative arena for this war,” Nader told Arab News.

Nader said that Turkey has always supported Lebanese sovereignty. 

It has also been critical of Hezbollah trying to control Lebanon to set up a state within a state, the director said.

“Turkey being part of Astana peace process (aimed at ending the Syrian conflict) and remaining critical of Iran’s moves in the region renders it a peace-broker by its engagement in UNIFIL. It could therefore extend the dynamic that is established in Astana to Lebanon,” he said.

Sinan Hatahet, an expert on Lebanon-Turkey relations at Al Sharq Forum in Istanbul, said that Turkish involvement in UNIFIL has changed significantly since 2006.


Internal dynamics

“Ankara was trying to play a major role in the Arab-Israeli conflict by mediating among Syria, Israel and Lebanon. But now the relationship between Turkey and Israel has deteriorated,” he told Arab News.

“Turkey’s involvement in  UNIFIL is within a larger context of Turkish objective of being present in the Levant. But I don’t think that Turkey is engaging in Lebanese internal dynamics through this mission,” Hatahet said.

Fatih Aldemir, a security consultant and a former major, said that Turkey’s presence in UNIFIL has symbolic significance for the Lebanese as they tended to see Turkey as a model country and have developed friendly relations.


Military assistance

“Turkey’s contribution to the mission is seen as material and psychological support for the current aim of this interim force which is establishing a sort of buffer zone between Israel and prevent the potential threats coming from the sea,” he told Arab News.

For the past three years, Turkey has also been providing foreign military assistance to Lebanon’s security institutions. 

On Wednesday, during a meeting with Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Hakan Cakil, Lebanese Defense Minister Yacoub Al-Sarraf thanked Ankara for its support.

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